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Solar Survivor Up 400%… and Still on Fire

Recent estimates show that datacenters worldwide inhale a total of 30 billion watts annually, the equivalent of 30 nuclear power plants.

No surprise, Greenpeace and vocal environmentalists have (and are) reacting with gasps loud enough to shake up entire industries, and make grown CEOs cry.

As a result, the so-called “dirty companies” have poured billions upon billions of dollars into making their data centers squeaky clean.

But there’s still plenty of scrubbing to do.

Pike Research estimates that more than $45 billion will be spent on energy-efficient datacenter technology by 2016. Indeed, companies are flocking to all corners of alternative energy, including hog waste.

Today, though, I want to talk specifically about solar, and how the most recent efforts of Apple (AAPL) and Verizon (VZ) bode very well for one company in particular, despite what anyone else says.

At the Core of Apple’s Solar Needs

A month ago, Apple announced plans to build (yet another) solar panel farm next to a datacenter in Reno, Nevada.

In addition to providing power to Apple’s datacenter, the 137-acre solar array – called Ft. Churchill – will generate approximately 43.5 million kilowatt hours of clean energy for Sierra Pacific’s power grid.

Apple’s North Carolina datacenter, the largest of its kind in the nation, is powered by two solar farms that generate 42 million kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy annually for the 100-acre, 20-megawatt (MW) facility.

Finally, Apple has been very hush-hush about two other 338,000-square-foot datacenters in the works in Prineville, Oregon (down the road from Facebook’s (FB)). Like the others, it’s expected to be powered by clean energy, including solar.

And the company that Apple chose for these projects is San Jose-based SunPower (SPWR). And Apple isn’t the only company that’s turning to SunPower…

Hooking Up With Verizon, Too

Verizon also signed a multi-year agreement with SunPower for its $100-million solar and fuel cell energy project that will help power 19 of its facilities in seven states across the country.

The rooftop- and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems – as well as solar parking canopies – will be installed at Verizon facilities in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona and North Carolina. The project encompasses corporate offices, call centers, datacenters and central offices.

When the project is completed, Verizon hopes to generate more than 70 million kilowatt hours of its own green energy annually, while eliminating more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s enough to offset the annual carbon emissions from more than one million gallons of gas. (Verizon’s goal is to cut carbon emissions in half by 2020.)

SunPower… Up 400% and Climbing

I counted 77 solar companies listed on Greentechmedia.com that were either acquired, went bankrupt, or simply closed down since 2009.

So the solar market is definitely shrinking. But the industry growth has been phenomenal…

Over the past three months, solar companies have outperformed the S&P 500 – 85% to 5%.

Granted, SunPower sold off nearly 14% after the company released its second-quarter earnings. Revenue came up $4 million shy of the expected $580 million, and investors weren’t happy with the lack of guidance for 2014.

However, all the other numbers were rock solid. SPWR reported a GAAP gross margin of 18.7% and earnings per share of $0.15, both well ahead of the company’s own estimates. Plus, SunPower made a profit of $0.45 per share, crushing Wall Street’s estimate of $0.11.

All of this came after the stock had already shot up 400% the previous six months, from $6.30 a share to $23.76. And there’s still plenty of wiggle room in the short and long term, as current projections have the stock hitting as high as $80.

Keep an eye on any news concerning approval of a recently disclosed $370-million, 162-MW project in Chile. A positive development here could send shares blasting higher in short order.

Ahead of the tape,

Karen Canella

Karen Canella

, Senior Correspondent

View More By Karen Canella